Laser Rain Makers

What if scientists could make it rain?
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- In some areas of the United States, summer weather can bring with it heat, sun and severe drought conditions. These droughts can be crippling for the economy and dangerous for local inhabitants. But, what if scientists could coax rain out of the sky?

Researchers at the University of Central Florida in Orlando said that lasers may one day be able to make rain.

"If you could arbitrarily make the rain where you want, that would be a great thing," said Matthew Mills, a graduate student of optics and physics at UCF.

During a rainstorm, particles inside a cloud build up static electricity and release it as lightning.  Meanwhile, tiny water droplets stick together until they are heavy enough to fall to the ground.  Scientists want to recreate this process with lasers to produce rain when and where it is needed.

"It just so happens that this [process] mimics the conditions in the clouds before a rainstorm," said Mills.

The technique could allow scientists to aim a high-energy laser beam into clouds, to create artificial rain and lightning.

The problem is that laser beams are short so their use is limited. Mills developed a new technique using one laser to extend the beam of another. Researchers were able to increase the length of the laser beam from 10 inches to seven feet.

Mills stated that, "You can make it go as far as you want."

The technology could potentially make rain on demand in places that experience frequent droughts.

The process could also allow scientists to divert or control lightning strikes.

Development of this technology was supported by a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.